“Starting Is Easy, To Persevere Is An Art”

I said goodbye yesterday to my best friend and hubby (CH), as he left to begin his new job in Germany.  I have to stay in The States for a number of months to wrap things up here before I will be joining him.  It was a difficult thing to see him walk out the door of our home, knowing that in the next 6 months, I will probably only see him a handful of times.   I’m pretty sure the “Marriage Rule Book” frowns on that.     Rule #749:  Live on the same Continent.  I feel like a whinny baby when I talk about it.  I mean it isn’t unheard of that couples have to live apart for various reasons at some time in their marriage. Military spouses do it all the time under much more difficult circumstances.  I do try though to focus instead on the positive aspects of living sans CH, like no one will cook uncovered food that splatters in the microwave…..or just in general leave messes in the kitchen.  I’m sure there are a few of my annoying habits he will be happy to be free of too, at least for a little while.

The first text I got from CH upon him arriving in Germany was “Shit.  Shit”  That can’t be good.  Nope.  When he was on the DB train from Frankfurt to Karlsruhe, someone stole his backpack which contained a lot of camera equipment, his laptop and money.  The backpack was very large and wouldn’t fit on his lap so he had no choice on the crowded train, but to to put it in the luggage rack above his seat. He thinks it was a duo set up, because when the train was coming to the Mannheim stop, a man distracted him asking for his help with a map.  He thinks while he was looking at the map and talking to the guy, someone else took his bag.  After some choice words to the universe, I’m pretty much over it now. I know it will take longer for CH though.  He is a very calm person and not much ever gets him upset…..except bad drivers or when he loses something.  Those two situations throw him from zero to ten in a flash.   We both know that in the big scheme of things possessions aren’t that important.  I’m grateful that he made it there safely.

For the next month or so I’m going to focus mostly on my German studies  I tried to sign up for an online German 1 class at a Community College, but unfortunately the class was closed.  I’ve been searching the internet for a more beefy curriculum than Duolingo.  I’ve found a few things, but I’m open to any suggestions if anyone knows of something good.  I definitely have some time on my hands.

Anfangen ist leicht, beharren eine Kunst.

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“Go Back to Africa!”

“GO BACK TO AFRICA!”, he yelled.   I was shocked and angry and hurt and ashamed, each an individual feeling, but all experienced at the same time.  It was our first day in Karlsruhe, Germany.  The sun was shining brightly and my husband (CH) and I had just left the hotel, excited to explore this beautiful new city on foot. We had the promise of new possibilities in our minds and I was acutely aware that we might be walking through our new home for the first time.  After a few blocks, we stopped to check out a menu posted outside a local pub.  It was, of course written in German, so I was staring intently at the words, trying to translate when I heard the man yelling.  I turned to CH and asked him what was said because I didn’t hear it clearly.  I saw this man still looking at my husband angrily as he walked away.  He was an older German man of fairly slight stature.  We were instantly transported from our carefree day into a place neither of us wanted to be.  How dare this man do this to us. How dare he verbally assault us this way.  But he wasn’t really directing his anger toward me, only my husband. My white skin protected me from his scorn.  That even made me more angry.  Why would this man feel it was OK to call out another person like that in broad daylight in the middle of the street?  After talking for a few minutes about how much the situation sucked, we both decided to “let it go” and continued on trying to enjoy our day.  It kept nagging at me though.  I couldn’t help but wonder if that could happen again at any time.  I was now on guard.

What bothered me the most was that someone had tried to hurt my husband.  That man doesn’t know how caring and loving my husband is.  He doesn’t know how smart and successful he is.  He doesn’t know that my husband is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met.  He didn’t even know that my husband is not African, not that it mattered.  The fact is……that man knew nothing about my husband, except that he has darker skin.

I often hear on the news and in social media people saying that they are sick of hearing about race….wondering why people of color can’t just stop talking about it, thinking about it.  What I have learned by being the caucasian wife of a black man is that when you aren’t white, society requires you to think about race.  Not thinking about race can put you in questionable situations at best, dangerous situations at worst.  You could be walking down the street with your wife in a fabulous new country and BAM!  you are reminded that your race is a problem for some folks.

I certainly don’t think this bigoted man is representative of Germany.  I met many wonderful Germans on our trip and overall we were treated very kindly.  Racism and xenophobia know no borders.  Something similar happened to CH in our neighborhood in the US a few years ago.  We live in a nice upper middle class community that is more racially diverse than most and only 25 miles from from the center of liberalism, Berkeley, California.  CH was out walking our little dog one night and a group of young white men drove by yelling, “Go Home N!#*$r!”  I was blown away that something like that could happen in our neighborhood.  It still breaks my heart.  Just as on the street in Karlsruhe, I was shocked….shocked that it happened a block from our home and that young people in our community would do that to another human being.  I was angry that my comfort in our neighborhood was being challenged.  I was angry that someone would target a member of my family. I was hurt that the man I love was treated in such a degrading way.  I was ashamed because people that I share a heritage with could be so cruel.  I know that those young men in the car also aren’t representative of our community as a whole.  That is important to keep in mind, but it still stings when such an ugly experience happens.  To pretend that black people just bring race issues onto themselves and that if they only stopped thinking and talking about it, everything would be fine, is a lie.

So the world is imperfect….this is no revelation. We move on and don’t let others’ negativity determine our reality. I try to do what I can to be a good person and reflect the change I want to see.  However, you can’t deny it leaves a mark.  We are all a sum of the vast experiences imprinted on us.  As humans we are fortunate when we are still net positive.

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Ich Spreche Kein Deutsch! (I don’t speak German!)

I’ve had very few occasions in my life where I’ve felt the kind of vulnerability that occurs when in a foreign land unable to speak the language or truly know the culture and systems.  I’ve traveled out of the United States to Mexico, The Bahamas, England, France and now Germany.  Of course in England and The Bahamas, English is the spoken language. When visiting Mexico I’ve always stayed close to the resorts where English is always spoken to the American tourists, although I do frequently take the opportunity to utilize my rudimentary Spanish skills on the poor resort staff.  I’m sure they never get tired of that. hahaha.

When I traveled to Paris last year I was very nervous about my complete ignorance of French, because we’ve all heard about how mean the French are! hehehe (actually the French were quite lovely!). Prior to our trip, I became BFFs with Rosetta Stone and at least learned enough French to be able to say some basic things and understand signs and menus.  However, to my surprise most Parisians automatically spoke to me in English after just my utterance of “Bonjour”.  The way that greeting rolls off my tongue must have given some indication I wasn’t French and blew my cover! Only once when in France did I encounter anyone that didn’t speak excellent English.  One morning, on the way out the door of my hotel room, I made a quick call to room service to ask them to pick up the breakfast dishes.  Everyone in the hotel had spoken English so I was caught off guard when the kitchen staff was unable to communicate with me.  I actually know enough French to be able to string some words together to get my point across, but what did I do?……PANIC!  ugh!  I panicked and just hung up the phone!   I was shocked by my rudeness and inability to blurt out any French at all.  I guess it’s not that surprising, but definitely embarrassing.  Other than that though, Paris was quite easy, language-wise. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with it being such a tourist hub and my experience would vary significantly if I traveled outside of the city.

When we traveled to Germany I was half expecting things to be the same as Paris.  I had much less lead time to learn some German on this trip, as it was a quick decision centered around a job opportunity for my husband, rather than a long anticipated European vacation.  Instead of paying another big chunk of money for Rosetta Stone, I decided to check out the free language app Duolingo.  It definitely helped me learn some basics in a short amount of time.  However, during our trip I realized that no one was going to automatically speak to me in English, often even at the hotel. (Maybe my Guten Tag is better than my Bon Jour!)  Many Germans do speak English, especially younger ones, but probably 95% of the Germans I encountered spoke to me in German until I asked them “Sprechen sie English?”  The government also doesn’t really accommodate English speakers.  All info at the train stations, signage and as I understand, all official government dealings, are almost exclusively in German.  Thank goodness there were English options on the ATMs and the train ticket machines.  However, when the ticket comes out…..all in German.  Good luck knowing how to catch the train if you don’t even know what a “gleis” is (by the way, it means “track” or platform).  None of this is surprising.  It is Germany after all and they speak German.  I’m telling you though, it is quite a strange feeling and extremely anxiety producing, especially if you are someone that really doesn’t like not having control over your surroundings.

While in Germany I had an appointment with a doctor in a little village, Bad Bergzabern.  I have some chronic health issues so our decision to move was determined in part if I could find an appropriate doctor in Germany.  Bad Bergzabern is an hour away from Karlsruhe by train and requires changing trains once.  My appointment was on a day when my husband was scheduled to participate in interviews at his prospective company so I had to go solo.  The idea of negotiating the trains by myself was pretty scary to me. (Don’t worry, the fact that I sound like a neurotic wimp isn’t lost on me.)  My kind husband agreed to do a trial run with me a few days before.  YESSSS!  Even that was stressful though.

We got to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) and our first task was to purchase tickets. We can do this!  So we queued up at the back of a line at what looked like a ticket counter.  When we reached the front of the line I pleaded asked “Sprechen sie English”. ” Ja! a little”, the young woman at the counter replied. (everyone says a little, no matter how good their English is).  Ok awesome!  I went on to tell her where we wanted to go, Bad Bergzabern. The look of incomprehension on her face couldn’t have been more if I would have said I wanted to go to Mars.  After a few more times of butchering the name of this poor town I finally wrote it down.  The young girl smiled with acknowledgement and repeated back to me what sounded to my American ears as “budbusaba”.  OK sure.  Yeah…that’s it.  Please can I have tickets?  She again looked at me like I had food in my teeth.  Apparently we were in a line just to ask information, not to get tickets. She pointed us to the ticket machines.  As I said, the machines have an English option and were fairly easy to navigate, but when the tickets came out printed all in German. we were still clueless about what it meant or where to catch the train. UGH!!!  I started fumbling with the translator on my cell phone and in short order we decided it would be easier just to go back to the young lady at the information counter.  There were 2 workers at the counter and as I was standing in line I was saying a prayer,  “God please let the same girl help me”.  Sometimes prayers are unanswered. So I began over again. “Sprechen sie…..” This girl told us the tickets we purchased weren’t enough to get to our destination and that we would have to go to the “window room” to add money to our tickets.  What the hell is a window room???! (I didn’t really say that. I just smiled and said danke)  We finally figured out where the window room was and found that she had given us incorrect information.  Our tickets were fine and we were informed of what a “gleis” was and where we should go to catch our train.  Awesome!  Yay Window Room!  This was already way more stress than I like to impose on myself and all we had accomplished at this point was buying the tickets!!!  The labyrinth of our journey had just begun and we had quite a few more obstacles, but we made it to Bad Bergzabern. It is the most beautiful village and we really enjoyed it, along with some ice cream.  Ice cream makes everything better, right?!  During my 9 days in Germany I had a number of similar experiences.  I was grateful to the many kind Germans that assisted me along the way….. and there were MANY!

The first time I ever remember feeling like a fish out of water was when I was 7 years old and in the 2nd grade.  My mom took my sisters and me to New York City to live in the Bronx with our grandparents.  We ended up not staying for long, but I was enrolled in school for awhile.  We previously had been living in small towns in Oklahoma.  That was the only life I knew, so going from that to New York City was a huge change for that little girl.  I remember my first day in the Monster Educational Complex school, at the end of the day the teachers were funneling all the kids into different lines leading to multiple buses, many of them city buses.  My mom and grandfather were supposed to pick me up that day and I think I knew that, but for some unknown reason I followed the leader right onto a city bus.  By the grace of God it was actually a bus that went to my grandparents’ neighborhood.  I remember being very scared in that crazy big city.  Somehow though I recognized the shopping district close to our neighborhood, got off the bus and walked to my grandparent’s apartment building.  Of course no one was home because they were frantically looking for me at the school!  That feeling of being a vulnerable little girl completely out of her comfort zone was similar to what I felt when trying to navigate unfamiliar systems in a foreign German tongue.  However, if I could find my way at seven years old, I certainly can do it with 40+ extra years under my belt.  I just may occasionally need some liquid courage at the end of the day AND a lot of German lessons!

danke-fc3bcrs-lesen

My Top 10 Expat Resources for Germany!

TopTEN
When faced with the prospect of picking up your life and moving to another country, it’s hard to know where to start or where to focus your mind.  In general, I believe there are two types of people and ways they handle life’s changes…..free spirits and planners. Many people are somewhere in the middle, but I think we all tend to identify more with one side or the other.  If you’re the type of person that just lets the situation guide you and are easily adaptable without much preparation, this blog post might not be as important to you.  However, if you’re like me and you’re the type of person that looks up restaurant menus before going out to eat, plans daily itineraries for vacations and/or spends hours scouring yelp reviews, I’ve got you covered. (Control freaks Represent!) Here are my Top 10 Expat Resources for Germany! (not in any order of importance)

  1.  Duolingo  https://www.duolingo.com  Visiting or moving to a country where you don’t speak the language can, at the very least, be a challenge and inconvenient.  There are a number of options to learn to speak another language.  Many apps/programs are easy to navigate.  Some of them are pretty pricey, but I found the FREE option of Duolingo to be a great start to give you some basic understanding of German.  The phrase I most frequently used when I recently visited Germany was no surprise….”Sprechen sie English?”  Most people do speak at minimum, some English, but Germans (and I think most people) appreciate it if you at least are making an attempt to learn and speak their language.
  2. Germany vs USA YouTube Channel  https://www.youtube.com/user/AlexandJim  Alex (German) and Jim (American) met through student exchange and their videos are really helpful and a lot of fun.  They have a perfect chemistry between them with friendly banter and exchange of ideas that make you hope that you find a great friend like that in your new country.  They touch on subjects like Stereotypes, Cultural differences, Food, etc.
  3. Get Germanized! YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/user/MeisterLehnsherr/featured Similar in concept to Germany vs USA, Get Germanized provides short videos explaining Germany from the perspective of a German.  Most of the videos are done by one guy, but at times he has guest spot videos.  He mixes information and comedy in a casual way that is both entertaining and useful.
  4. Expat BLOGS!  Look to the people who have gone before you. Expat Blogs are a wonderful way to get an idea of what other people in similar situations have experienced and learned.  Of course experiences may vary and you have to understand that, but I definitely found the blogs I read to be helpful.  It was the reason I started this blog.  I have some of my favorites listed on my page under “Blogs I Follow”.
  5. Country Specific Expat Websites  http://www.expatica.com/de  http://www.internations.org/germany-expats/guide These websites provide a broad range of content and links to other resources that can keep you busy researching for hours.
  6. Local Expat Websites http://www.expat-karlsruhe.com  This website is specific to the area where I am moving, but I’m sure there are others for different communities within Germany.  These websites provide access to local festivals, schools, shopping, customs and much more. It also connected me with the most valuable resource of all.  See number 7.
  7. Relocation Service  http://www.move-in.info/index.php?id=3&L=1  Again, this resource is specific to the Karlsruhe area, but I am sure similar service is available in other communities.  Trying to find an apartment, set up residency ( I hear the US DMV pales in comparison to the maddening and tedious German bureaucracy), connect utilities, open a bank account, etc in a foreign country with a language that you don’t speak is daunting at best.  We connected with with the owner of move-in.com, Carmen Sax, and she and her staff have been awesome so far.  They showed us around the area and quickly found a wonderful flat for my husband very close to his office.  Without their help, there is no way we would have been able to accomplish that in the short time we had before the move.  There is a cost involved and it’s not cheap, but neither is the assistance of a realtor (in Germany realtors usually charge 2 months basic rent as a commission).
  8. Expat Social Media Groups  Like I mentioned earlier, there are many groups of people out there that have already gone through this and are a wealth of information.  I found Facebook especially helpful.  Just search the term “expat” or “expatriate” and the country (or even city if you are moving to a large city) that you are moving to on Facebook and you will most likely come up with many options.
  9. MeetUp.com http://www.meetup.com/karlsruhe-meetup-group/  One of the things that I worry about when moving to Germany, is not knowing anyone.  We all need friends and social interaction.  Meet-up is a good website to look into to find some like minded people in your area, expat or not.  I was able to find a local English Speaking group near my new area.  They have regular social functions.  I will certainly check them out when I arrive.
  10. Google Translate Functions  When doing online searches for information in Germany you need to actually search in German if you want the best data.  If you use Google Chrome as your web browser, it has a great translate option at the top of the page. By clicking “translate” it will translate all or most of the page for you.  Of course for small amounts of text you can just google “German to English” and a handy translation text box will appear at the top of the page.

I hope you find these tips helpful and if you are a planner like me, I hope it helps keep your blood pressure in check! 😉

Tschüß

And so it begins…

Bad Berzabern

Bad Berzabern

Baden Baden

Baden Baden

Overlooking Heidelberg

Overlooking Heidelberg

heidelburg2

We are moving to Germany!  I’ve started a blog to chronicle this once in a lifetime experience of moving to another country.  Beyond that though, I want to pay it forward by documenting my journey.  When I was doing research on becoming an Expat, I read a number of blogs and watched as many videos. So I hope the information I provide will be helpful to the next person searching the internet for information and reassurance.

To start from the beginning, my brilliant husband came upon an opportunity to work at an awesome tech company in Karlsruhe, Germany.  We currently live in the Bay Area in California.  When he initially presented me with the prospect of moving to Germany, I thought he was crazy.  At this time of my life with 2 grown children, I never even considered that life would take us from the rolling hills of the Napa Valley to Deutschland!  I envisioned my life as traveling occasionally, continuing my career as a nurse and enjoying watching my kids’ lives unfold.  As life often does, I was thrown a curveball….an exciting and adventurous one, but a curveball, yet still.  After sitting with the situation for a few days, I came to the realization that this was a great opportunity for my husband career wise and a new adventure for us both together.

My husband was required to go to Germany for a series of additional interviews and tasks to prove his abilities to the company. It was a rigorous process.  His new boss is a smart man and also invited me.  It was smart because it provided me an opportunity to experience first hand the beauty of Germany and get an idea of what our life might be like there.  It made it much easier for me to stay on board.  Germany truly is a beautiful country.

After 9 days in Germany, we are now home and the enormity of tasks that are required to prepare for a move like this are running through my mind like a Cat 5 hurricane.  What weighs most heavily on me though are my kids.  I know they are grown and they don’t need me as much anymore. However, I do still need them.  It will be very hard to be so far away from them, although I know that I have raised them to be independent and strong.  I know we won’t be gone forever and how incredible it is for them to have a home base in Europe to see all of the amazing sites that would have been more difficult to explore before.

In my next blog post I will share some of the great resources I found while doing my research on Germany.  They were incredibly helpful!  How did people get information before the internet???!

But ’til then,

Auf Wiedersehen 🙂